By Arlene Edmonds
Special to The CS&T

This is Natural Family Planning Awareness (NFP) Week. It is the time of year when the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Family Life Office focuses on publicizing responsible parenting and fertility awareness. While their target audience is married couples, it is also beneficial for any woman who wants to monitor her monthly cycle.

Tara Plymouth, administrator of the Archdiocese’s NFP program and coordinator of Family Life Ministry, pointed out that this week is the anniversary of Humanae Vitae (“On Human Life”) the encyclical by Pope Paul VI that was released July 25, 1968. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) encourages the promotion of it.

Learning about the female reproductive cycle is something that is beneficial for every married couple, including those trying to conceive. Even single women can use it to track their monthly schedules, particularly if they suffer from pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) or dysmenorrhea (cramps).

“This is one of the components of our marriage preparation program,” Plymouth said. “We usually have four sessions, and the third is all about NFP. We point to the benefits of understanding NFP and how this is not the rhythm method of counting calendar days. This is much more accurate. So, there is much richness in creating more intimacy when couples understand the female cycle.”

One of the things that couples learn from the process is intimacy, according to Plymouth. She pointed out that by understanding that fertility is “a gift” they learn to appreciate that a woman’s cycle involves more than PMS and other discomforts. “They understand that by using NFP there may be sacrifices one has to make in family planning the natural way, the faith and trust involved and how it (harmonizes) with Church teachings about being open to life,” Plymouth said.

Michael and Lizanne Castagno know the benefits of NFP. They just celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary on July 7. They have practiced NFP since 1994 and have taught it to more than 100 couples in recent years.

Lizanne Castagno admitted that after hearing about NFP in a Pre-Cana class she was initially skeptical it would work on her since her cycle was irregular. Yet when she found that she could ascertain when her period would come on by taking her morning basal body temperature as well as checking the consistency of her cervical mucus, she was immediately won over. “It’s really easy for me now since it takes all but two minutes every morning,” she said.

“It has proven to be very reliable for us,” Michael Castagno said. “We have three daughters and they were all planned. I am the chart man. I keep track of her temperature and the mucus signs. It has really drawn us closer together because this is a joint effort. We also feel good to know that we are respecting the Church’s teaching about life.”

Another by-product of using NFP is that the couple is very open and candid in their discussions about their desire to have children at certain times in their marriage. Michael insisted that NFP is not contraception but a “way to be proactive with our family planning” rather than a means to prevent pregnancy.

In fact, when they teach classes at various parishes around the Archdiocese they are finding that even non-Catholics are registering. “Many want to be more holistic and are understanding the physical (repercussions) of contraceptives,” Lizanne said. “They are realizing that natural family planning just makes sense. Once they are in the class we can explain to them the Catholic teachings about the purity of life.”

For more information or to register for a NFP class call 215-587-5639.

Arlene Edmonds is a freelance writer and St. Raymond of Penafort parishioner. She may be reached at